Buddha in the Attic, The

Julie Otsuka
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award For FictionNational Book Award and Los Angeles Times Book Prize FinalistA New York Times Notable BookA gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Once again, Julie Otsuka has written a spellbinding novel about identity and loyalty, and what it means to be an American in uncertain times.


Reviewed: 2017-03-07
The Buddha in the Attic is sparse account of Japanese picture brides experiences in America: the hopes and dreams of a new life in America; the disappointment of the meeting the men they are promised to; the abuses they faced from their husbands and from the others around them; the fear of and sadness of life in a new country; the harshness of manual labor working for as maids, laundress, groceries, and farm labors; the rejection they faced from society, from their husbands, and even from their children; the fear of the interment process; and even a few moments when life wasnt disappointing. It was a pretty dark and depressing little novel. And told in the third person singular (we) forces the reader to recognize the collective nature of the experiences of these women. Lot of folks will find the writing style annoying and are unable to connect with these women. For this story had been told as a single person narrative it wouldnt had been as impactful for a story with a wide ranging experience of picture brides and the interment of the Japanese people deserve. My only issue with the story is how diverse Otsuka made California sound. Her depictions of rural northern California and the lives of farmers was spot on. It was actually pretty cool for someone like me to get the places I grew up in name dropped and for those places to feel authentic (Yuba City, Gridley, Elk Grove, Chico, Lincoln, etc.). The problem is that the very small populations of these places just havent been all that diverse through our collective past. I think making the lives of the Japanese characters throughout California was to make their absence something more widely felt. But the sad reality is that internment went unnoticed by very large portions of the state.
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